Dr. Terry LeBlanc "Decolonizing Christian Spirituality" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. Each week, we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who, like Henri Nouwen, is thoughtfully and freshly exploring the concerns and issues of Christian spirituality today. We invite you to share the daily meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Our core purpose is to share Henri Nouwen’s spiritual vision, so that people can be transformed by experiencing themselves as God’s beloved.
Now, let me introduce you to my guest today. I am honored to be joined in conversation by Dr. Terry LeBlanc. Terry has over 42 years of indigenous community-based experience as an educator in theology, cultural anthropology, and community development practice.
Terry is the founding chair and current director of NAIITS An Indigenous Learning Community. He serves as an adjunct professor at Acadia Divinity College, Sioux Falls Seminary, the University of Divinity in Melbourne and Tyndale University and Seminary. Author of numerous articles and assorted book chapters, Terry has won several awards for his varied writings. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Terry for various documentary and television projects, and know him as a wonderful and engaging, well-informed communicator. We could not have a better person to articulate indigenous perspectives on theology and practice.
Welcome, Terry, to our podcast.
Terry LeBlanc: Hi, Karen, it’s good to be with you this morning from lovely Prince Edward Island. It’s nice and sunny here today, though we’re getting that usual mix of maritime spring weather, or pre- spring weather, I should say.
Karen Pascal: Now, I want to start by asking you a question. In 2010, for your work on the creation of NAIITS, you received the Dr. E.H. Johnson Memorial Award for Innovation in Mission. Terry, what is NAIITS?
Terry LeBlanc: Well, NAIITS is an acronym, as I’m sure you could imagine. And originally, when we founded NAIITS almost 25 years ago, it stood for the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. And so N.A.I.I.T.S. Oh, three or four years into our tenure as an organization, we were approached by people from Australia who had been good friends of ours for many, many years, and also from New Zealand and the Philippines, who asked if we could come and engage their communities with similar conversations, as well as help them potentially create structures of indigenous theological education, not unlike what we had created here. And in recognition of the fact that all of the people inviting us had been and were, I suppose, under consistent, colonial engagements and occupations, and however we might want to think of those things, for as many years as we had, in some cases, we changed the name to simply “NAIITS An Indigenous Learning Community”, so that it wouldn’t be perceived to be any kind of colonial agenda at all. So, NAIITS became simply NAIITS An Indigenous Learning Community about 20 years ago now. And we just abbreviated it to the acronym NAIITS.
Karen Pascal: Well, that’s good to know. It’s interesting, because our audience for this podcast really stretches right around the world. It’s certainly a North American audience, but we hear from people in Australia, New Zealand and all parts of the world. So, it’s good to have that in mind. And obviously you think in those ways, if that’s the kind of education-rich setting that you’ve created, I’m sure. Now you mentioned that you’d like us to focus on what it means to live into health and wellbeing with the author of the created order, the human community, and the rest of the created order, of which humanity is a part. Where are we going to start with that, Terry?
Terry LeBlanc: Well, part of the work that we have been doing in NAIITS community, and we describe ourselves as a learning community, isn’t as classically hierarchical as you might imagine, or tertiary theological or other educational endeavors for that matter. We describe ourselves in fairly flat terms as a learning community where students and faculty are not necessarily easily differentiated. And our main focus really has been to take the experience of Christian faith and life that has been in some cases very much imposed upon indigenous peoples around the globe, and try and unpack that – decolonize it, if you will. Now, some people would say, “Why would you even bother doing that, since Christianity has been very much, and perhaps continues to be very much a colonial religious imposition in indigenous life? Why wouldn’t you just leave that entirely alone and sort of step back into whatever your traditional religious or spiritual belief systems are?”
And part of our response is to simply say that just because Apple computers are created in the United States and manufactured in China doesn’t mean that they aren’t utilizable around the globe, by people who choose to use Apple computing products. And for that matter, IBM or the Microsoft operating system, or what have you. Indigenous people engage virtually everything that other people in the globe engage. We simply want to engage it in our own terms, on our own terms. And that’s what decolonizing, in our experience, is about. So, we’re about the business of decolonizing theological reflection, biblical reflection, community development practice and so forth, seeking to engage it from a philosophical, epistemological, ontological framework that is our own.
And so, when we talk about living into health and wellbeing – I know that sounds like a sort of rambling response to your question, Karen, but I’m getting there. So, when we talk about living into health and wellbeing and doing so as indigenous folks, we talk about being in right relationship with the one who authored the existence we have, and the existence of what we determine is indeed a created order. We want to live in right relationship with spiritual powers that exist within this created order. And sometimes those spiritual powers are, as our listeners might imagine, sort of those quote unquote ethereal spirits that might be a part of the environment in which we find ourselves living. But sometimes those spiritual powers are spiritual forces, as it were, that are evident in our created order. And today, as we talk, we’re experiencing one of those spiritual forces, those spiritual powers in the conflict that exists within Ukraine, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has unfolded. And so, there are spiritual forces at play there.
And if you were to look at the biblical text, Paul would describe them as spiritual forces of wickedness in high places, and I would echo that very much so. And so, we are to live as human beings in right relationship with the one who authored the created order, and with other spiritual powers that exist in the created order, neither seeking to serve or be served by them. We’re to live into right relationship with one another in the human community.
And that goes to the very comment I made a moment ago, about what does it mean to live in right relationship with people in Ukraine, in Russia, in Latvia, in other parts of Europe, in South and Central America, in Australia and so forth. What does it mean to seek to not oppress them or be oppressed by them? Not mistreat them or be mistreated by them? Not seek to impose our agendas upon them, but rather to engage in conversations about our respective agendas in life in ways that we can learn from one another, without seeking to harm one another?
And then finally, of course, what does it mean for us to live into health and wellbeing with respect to the rest of the created order that we’re a part of? I mean, humanity, irrespective of whether you’re a faith-filled person or a person of faith, if you want to put it that way, or a person who has a more evolutionary perspective, if you will, on how we came into existence as human beings, the truth is that if we don’t find a way to live in right relationship and relatedness to the rest of the created order or the rest of the environment that we’re part of, if you will, we not only harm ourselves, if you want to be strictly human-focused or anthropocentric about it, but we harm everything else that’s a part of the created order. And so, how do we navigate living in a good way with all of the rest of the creation that we’re a part of? There’s nothing that human beings do that doesn’t have implications for every other part of the created order, every other part of the environment. So, when we talk about that in the NAIITS community, that’s the kind of thing that we’re talking about.
Karen Pascal: You know, I enjoyed so much – in some of your articles, you really draw attention to a reality that was very striking. And that is so often in, quotes, Christian theology. We tend to almost begin our Christian theology with the third chapter of Genesis, you know, the Fall, and we make it all about that. And we miss where it really begins, in Genesis 1 and 2, and then taking it to Romans, the whole business of God redeeming all of creation. Tell us a little bit about that, because I think that’s a place where in a way, if we go to that, we can unify, we can really be speaking the same language.
Terry LeBlanc: Yeah. When I first began to do – well, not just myself, but when my colleagues and friends of the last 35 years or more began to think about theological engagement, doing theology as you were – it’s a bit of an oxymoron for many indigenous people. You don’t do theology; you just live as a spiritual being within a spiritual creation. But when we began to think about things in a more classically theological way, and looked at it from a biblically theological perspective, we began to realize how much the Western church in particular has spent its time, if you will, examining the nature of, and the transmissibility of sin and the fact that the created order had collapsed as a consequence of our first parents, to use the Genesis narrative, having broken the law of God or broken the commandment of God.
And yet, as we look at it as indigenous folk – and others who are non-indigenous working with us – as we look at it, we don’t see a legal and moral framework articulated in the first two chapters of Genesis. Rather, we see a description of a covenant relationship: The way in which humanity and the rest of the created order is to live together under the auspices of its creator, the auspices of God, so as to live well with one another. And so that’s what Genesis 1 and 2 is about: How do we live together in this created order? And how do we do so in a respectful fashion? How do we do so in a way that preferences one another and preferences the benefit of every aspect of the created order?
So, if you start there, if in essence, if you ask the question: When it was functioning at its best, what did it look like? That’s what it looked like: Genesis 1 and 2. I know it’s an abbreviated description. I know that we can argue over what Genesis 1 and 2 really is about, from the sort of a literary perspective or otherwise, but there’s this grand narrative of God’s creation, if you will, living in the way in which God intended it. And so, rather than start in Genesis 3, where the wheels have fallen off, where our first parents have broken the covenant relationship or the covenant of creation, we think it’s better to step back a couple of chapters and say, “What was the thought, the idea, the plan, the intent of God, of the creator at that time of bringing forth the creation?”
And again, not to argue over how it came into existence, the methodology, the mechanisms, or otherwise – we’re not interested in that kind of argumentation. We’re simply saying, “What did it look like? What was the intent of it? How did it function together?” And if you start there and ask questions about what it looked like at its best, it seems to us a better starting point than saying, “Now that the wheels have fallen off, what do we do about it?” And it places, if you will, in the center of the biblical narrative, the tree of life at the center of our conversation, not at the periphery. And you know, I’ve always found over the years, as I ask people to tell me about the Genesis narrative, Genesis 1, 2, and 3, inevitably, people focus on the Fall.
Inevitably, if people talk about the garden scene at all, and I say, “Well, tell me about the garden scene. Tell me about the trees in the garden.”
Inevitably, the vast majority of people, almost in the 98th percentile, will say to me, “Oh yeah, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which is of course the tree from which our first parents consumed the fruit, which led to the collapse of the covenant.”
And instead, I say, “Well, what about the tree of life? It’s the one that’s named first, in that description in Genesis. What about that one? Let’s talk about that one.”
Because it does reappear at the end of the biblical narrative, in Revelation 22. And now, there are two trees of life, one on each side of the river of life flowing from the throne of the Creator God, and the fruit of those trees is producing 12 crops in the season. And the leaves of the tree, it says in the narrative, are for the healing of the nations. So why don’t we talk about those? Why don’t we talk about what it looks like when it’s restored to the intent and the plan of God? So, let’s step back and say, “What did it look like in the beginning? What is it looking like at the end, and how do we move between those two places?”
Karen Pascal: I love the fact that you bring us then to Romans 8:18 to 25, talking about not just the redemption of mankind, but the redemption of all creation. That, to me, is rich and exciting. And I think if it really is truly our understanding, well, I guess we don’t think that there’s that whole big understanding that brings us all together. We’re in a sense, you know, we’re dealing with all sorts of issues of reconciliation, because we deal with this doctrine of discovery and things that were almost treated as if nothing was … God didn’t show up in North America and other parts of the world until European showed up, which is craziness, if you think in that way. But we have a different kind of a sense of the wondrous, creative God uniting us all.
Let me ask you a little bit about being spiritual. What exactly does it mean to be spiritual, from your perspective, and is there a different spirituality between a Christian spirituality and an indigenous spirituality? Help me with that.
Terry LeBlanc: Well, that’s a good question. It goes to some of your comments just a moment before that, the fact that the whole of creation is the focus and activity of God through the person, work, life, teaching, death, resurrection of Christ. In all of creation that the whole of it, you know, as Paul says, is groaning awaiting its own redemption, awaiting its own restoration, if you will, even as we are waiting. That implies that there’s a spirituality about the whole of the creation, not just about humanity, that is of concern to God. When you look at Job, Job talks about that in Job 12, that the whole of the creation has an intimacy with the Creator that often western Christians and the western Christian trajectory has relegated to some secondary concern – if it’s a concern at all.
So, the spirituality piece: Spirituality is ontological in nature. In other words, it’s an impartation at the origin, not as a subsequent thing. So, it isn’t about behavior, which is oftentimes what western Christianity has made it to be about. So, when people talk about Christian spirituality, they talk about devotional life and about Bible reading. They talk about fasting and prayer and so forth, as if that’s their spirituality. And really, that is not their spirituality. If in fact, humanity was created in the image and likeness of God, it doesn’t say human beings when they behave in this particular way are created in the image and likeness of God; it says human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, period, full stop. And the question isn’t about whether they’re of a spiritual ontology or nature or origin, but rather about what they do to express that which is within them, that is of an ontological nature, their spiritual essence, existence.
And it isn’t that the physical body somehow contains in its inner core, this little spiritual nugget. It’s, we are spiritual throughout. We’re infused with the spiritual essence of God. We are his image and likeness, and I don’t fully understand what that means. I don’t think anybody really does. Perhaps somewhere down the road as we transition from life to life, and move from this side of the journey to the next, we’ll understand that, I suppose. But what it does mean is that we are possessed of a spiritual essence that needs to find its expression, that needs to be given expression, that needs to be given a release into our life, and into our living of that life with others and with the rest of the creation, that makes sense.
And so, what we do isn’t our spirituality, but it’s an expression of that which lies within us that needs to be released, that needs to find its release. And we then choose whether that release will be God-ward, God-directed, other-directed or internalized, as it were, and turned back inwards, so that it becomes very egocentric as opposed to createo-centric. As opposed to outward toward the rest of the creation we’re a part of, we can choose to turn it inward and be very egocentric about our spiritual nature, about our spiritual essence and being.
And so, what I found interesting is that when I was told, as I came to a faith experience and putting my faith in Christ, I was told then that there were certain things that made me a Christian, or continued to make me a Christian, that were behaviorally framed. You know, the way that I prayed and so on, or the things that I’ve just talked about. But it implied that if I failed to do those things in a particular way, that I was now unspiritual. And that’s something that we have found it important to resist, because it places our acceptance before God on our behavior, not on our being. And God accepts us because of our being, because of who he’s created us to be, because of who Christ has made us to be the fullness of, or the fullness in our expression of. It isn’t about what I do. What I do is an expression of what’s inside, not the essence itself. So, spirituality is not about behavior, but about being, for me. And the being then gives rise to the doing and the behaving and the attitudes and so forth.
And we get into this conundrum where we ask questions about whether or not somebody who’s not a follower of Jesus can be a good person. And I mean, the evidence is abundant around us that yes, they can. The question isn’t whether they could be a good person. The question is out of whence comes that goodness? And to me, that goodness must come from the fact that God has imparted to them, within them, his image and likeness. And whether they’re even conscious of it, that goodness needs to find expression, and does. Conversely, the person who lives in an evil way has denied that very thing within them, perhaps, that God has placed there, that is inviting a good response, a positive response, a response of blessing, not cursing, and so forth. So, it’s this complicated interplay. We are spiritual because we’re created, we’re invited to give expression to that which is within us, which is spiritual. And we choose then the focus and form that that will take.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting to broaden our thinking, just as you’re describing it there. Indigenous spirituality is so important to bring into this world that we’re living in and to value. And I feel like it brings more of a balance to God’s whole creation, gives us better eyes to see and better hearts to listen to.
Terry LeBlanc: Yeah. Again, I think much of what I was taught in my early days as a follower of the Jesus way was very much Western, and it was about circumscribed behaviors. It wasn’t about cultivating the interiority. That’s one of the things I loved about Henri Nouwen. Henri was so good at cultivating the interior, so that the interior could find expression in the exterior. And it isn’t, you know, that we need to become monastic or anything of that nature; that’s not the implication of that in my mind. But it’s the idea that when we cultivate the interior, that which God has placed within us, that spiritual nature that is a resident within every human being and resident within the rest of the creation in perhaps a different way.
And again, that goes to the conversation Paul has with us in Romans, that the creation itself groans in the same way that Paul describes human beings groaning in their prayer closets. When they’re dumbfounded, they’re confounded, they aren’t sure how to pray, the Spirit intercedes in us with groanings too deep for words to express, Paul says. And he then goes on to talk about the creation itself groaning, using the image of a woman in childbirth; it groans in travail awaiting its own redemption, even as we also do. It groans, awaiting the revelation of the sons and daughters of God. And you have to ask the question – if you’re an indigenous person, anyway – you have to ask the question, “Now, is the groaning in that same interiority as is in the rest of creation, as it is with humans? How does the creation groan in that way, as Paul talks about it?”
If there isn’t a spiritual ontology about the rest of the creation, spiritual essence and being, is it the same? No, it’s different. But it’s nonetheless something God has placed there. And nonetheless, something that again, in Job 12, Job says, very tongue-in-cheek to his counselors, “Surely wisdom will die with you,” after he has heard from them. And then he goes on to say, “But I have a few things to say: Why don’t you ask the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, the animals that walk up on the land? Why don’t you speak to the very earth itself? Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”
And the Western community wants to personify or anthropomorphize that, or create it as a metaphor or something of that nature. And yet, for the indigenous community, it’s clear and obvious that the creation speaks. We just don’t have the ears to listen, most times.
Karen Pascal: Terry, tell me: You mentioned Henri and I’d love to know a little bit about your relationship with Henri Nouwen. Did you know him as a friend or did you meet him through his books? Tell me a bit about that.
Terry LeBlanc: Well, I first met Henri many years ago, when the first Street Level conference in Canada was unfolding and Henri and [Sister] Sue [Mosteller] were part of that, along with people like Rick Tobias and so forth. And I was invited into that. I didn’t have any particular status that someone would want to invite me to bring, but I was invited into those conversations, into the planning and people like Tim Huff and so forth. So, there were numbers of people.
Karen Pascal: Can you just explain to our audience what Street Level was about? What was the conference about?
Terry LeBlanc: Oh yes, certainly. Sorry, I was off reminiscing.
Karen Pascal: No, no, that’s okay. But I think the audience around the world will go, “I wonder what that was all about.” So, tell us just a bit about why was Henri there. Was he the guest speaker or was he just one of the people attending?
Terry LeBlanc: Yeah. Street Level was a conference for street workers, for Christian workers who were on the street, as we used to describe it, “in the trenches” day to day, working with those who were in poverty, in dire circumstance, who were being oppressed by addictions or oppressed by relational trauma that they had not been able to circumvent, or any range of things – just dire poverty, and people who worked with them day in and day out, week in, week out, year in, year out. Street Level became a place where they could be ministered to and cared for, and honored and respected for the work that they were doing. And so, Street Level and the places in which we held it, were opportunities for them to be nourished and cared for in good ways, to honor them and so forth.
And so, there were a number of them that took place over the years. I forgot how many now. But it was in that period where Henri and Sue and their work, of course Henri’s work in L’Arche and other activities, took a significant place. You know, Henri was respected as a teacher to many of those who were part of that street work community, that community of people who ministered to people in poverty and need. And so, he was part of helping to shape the thinking about it. He, of course he and Sue spoke – Sue Mosteller – with some regularity, were looked to for aspects of guidance and encouragement and particular ways of viewing poverty and those in poverty, and how to minister effectively to those who are in poverty. And so, I got to know Henri through that and, you know, we weren’t fast, close friends – that would be inappropriate to say, but we were more than acquaintances, and I had very much a respect for Henri’s thinking and his person and how he sought to live out his calls and commitments. He was influential in many of our lives.
Karen Pascal: Oh, that’s lovely. It’s lovely to hear that. You know, we come to that little spot where we kind of meet at that point of – perhaps it’s a book we’ve read of Henri’s or maybe even the daily meditations. But you’ve obviously got to see him in action, which was, I’m sure, I will say I’m sure, entertaining along with inspiring, knowing Henri.
Terry LeBlanc: Oh, indeed, he was entertaining. My goodness. He reminded me of Jesus’ reflection on “here’s a person in whom there is no guile.”
Karen Pascal: Oh, lovely! Yeah, just lovely.
You know, I’d like to go back and talk a little bit about reconciliation. I think this is such an important time and moment and opportunity, and I think all of us want help. We want help to know how to see reconciliation truly happen. And so, give us some help. Give us some help right now and say, “Here’s where we begin. Here’s where we put our foot in the water and move forward.” I know that many are well down the road, but there are some that just need to be encouraged, even just to begin in terms of what their attitudes and their mindset will be. Help us with this.
Terry LeBlanc: Hmm. Well, I mean, it’s reconciliation particularly here in Canada, but certainly there are other pockets, of course, where the ideas of reconciliation emerged and where the flames of reconciliation were fanned, sometimes more vigorously than at others, and in some places more so than in others. But the idea of reconciliation implies, as we’ve sort of unpacked it over these last years, implies that there was once a relationship that people had that somehow fell into disarray, and people became alienated from one another, and at odds with one another, and so forth. And so, people have often borrowed the biblical injunction to a ministry of reconciliation as per Paul’s words. But sometimes, those fall very flat, because they imply an event or activity takes place at the end of which we sing a hymn, perhaps hold a toast together, and then go our separate ways, now having been reconciled.
But that’s not the understanding that we have in the indigenous community that I work with. Nor is it in my view, a good understanding of the biblical view of reconciliation. In some cases (and perhaps in more than the majority of them), we haven’t had a relationship to begin with of any consequence, and certainly not a good one. And so, it hasn’t fallen in the ditch and now needs to be restored or recovered or renewed or dragged out of the mud and washed off and buffed up and made shiny again. In fact, we have to start right from the very beginning to say, “What does it look like for us to be in relationship with one another?” And that’s where the language I used earlier about right relationship comes in.
What does it mean for us in the human community to live in right relationship with one another? That’s a better description, in my mind, than what does it look like for us to be reconciled, since perhaps we haven’t been in relationship with one another – good, bad or ugly – before. Whereas, to talk about, for example, you and I: What it would look like for us to be in a good relationship with one another, to be respectful of one another, caring of one another? To cover one another with care and protection, and to think well of one another, to speak well of one another, to have concern for one another’s life and lifestyle and health and wellbeing, and those kinds of things? What does that look like?
That, it seems to me . . . Does it ever happen perfectly? No, not at all, but that, it seems to me, would be what we’ve classically perhaps missed when we use the word “reconciliation” and see it as an event or activity beyond which now we can say, “We’re done and we’re reconciled.” Because it implies, then, on a day-to-day basis I have to ask questions about, is what I’m doing, thinking, saying, moving me toward a better relationship with this person or that group of people? Is it helping me to live in a better way with them and with myself? So, I prefer to talk about what does it look like for us to live in right relationship with one another.
And people say, “Well, give me some examples of that,” and, “What do you mean by that?” And I always come back to say, “I think as human beings, we know when we’re not treating somebody well.” We know when we’re disrespecting them, when we’re cheating them or stealing from them. We know. We may not want to admit it to anybody else. Perhaps we even struggle to admit it to ourselves, but we know that. That’s what conscience is about, at least in part. It challenges us to think differently about our activities and whether or not they’re good or not good. So, I don’t think it’s a matter of creating a shopping list of things that you need to do to be in right relationship, but rather, think carefully: Are the things that you’re doing, saying, and involved in with that individual, manipulative or of a usurious nature? Are they helpful to them, and to you? Do they, at the end of the day, allow you to say, “I’m moving towards a better relationship with that person than I was when I woke up this morning”?
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because here in Canada, we have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and of course that outlines steps and possibilities. But I love what you’re saying, because in a way it goes right down to what God has always spoken to us about: What is our heart like? If you don’t think well of your brother, God looks on the heart. He looks on what’s going on there.
There’s a quote in here that I enjoy. There’s several. I mean, I’ve loved various things that you’ve written here, but you say: “‘We are not personally responsible.’ Indigenous people regularly hear these words, or ones to their effect, in discussions about multi-generational, prejudicial social policies, treaty rights, and wrongs committed against them over successive generations, and about the possibility of reconciliation. More often than not, these words are offered by people who, while acknowledging past wrongs, want or need to find personal distance from responsibility for having maintained the environment in which these wrongs originally, and now continue to, take place. These are words of personal exoneration, which, while they may seem reasonable and even justifiable, give voice to the idea that while they enjoy privileges provided them by the decisions of their forebears, they hold no personal responsibility for the actions that created those privileges.”
I appreciate what you’ve been sharing, Terry, and calling us to, and calling us forward. It’s an important part of the leadership that you bring.
Terry LeBlanc: Yeah. I vaguely recall writing that. It’s one of the things about writing a lot of things, is you sometimes forget what you wrote. But I do recall writing that, and I would still hold very much to what I wrote, and think it very much the same way. One of the reasons that it’s so easy to do that is that particularly Western societies or Western-framed or Western-influenced, maybe, is even a better way to say it, but because not every society that is Western-influenced is a “Western” nation, but they’re influenced by Western thought in some way, shape or form. One of the critical ways in which that influence is expressed is this penchant for, and this drive towards an unknown and unknowable future.
You know, it’s a curious thing. No one knows what tomorrow – I mean, for that matter, I don’t know what the next 10 minutes is going to bring, never mind the next 10 years. We could find ourselves in a very different environment than we imagine in 10 minutes’ time, or 10 days or 10 years. So, driving towards an unknown and unknowable future, with complete disregard for oftentimes the present, never mind the past, seems to me to be an untenable way to move forward, if we want to live well together. It ignores what’s taken place in the past, as if somehow now that it’s over and done, we concretize it, we put it in a statue, or place the catalog, the book in the shelves of the library in Ottawa or the Library of Congress or wherever else it is, and maybe consult it on occasion to see if our facts are correct. But we don’t let it influence our present behavior in any significant way.
In other words, we drive towards an unknown and unknowable future – plan for it, build for it, anticipate it, et cetera, et cetera, but we’ve forgotten how we got to the present moment once we move through it. So, the moment comes, the moment goes, we’ve moved through the present, we’re now into what was the future an hour ago, and we’re still driving towards the future. But the better way to do that would be to recognize that it is the past that created the present moment.
Now, I’m not trying to be a determinist here, for somebody listening in might say, “You’re into determinism.” Well, that’s not the case. I’m simply saying that the future doesn’t exist for us.
Now, as followers of Christ, and as people who believe in a creator in God, we might say, “Well, God knows the future from the present, from the past” and so on. Well and good. That’s not us. I don’t know what’s going to happen in a year’s time. Neither do any of the friends around me or people that I know. But I do know how I got here. I do know what I did to get me to the present time. And it is that, that helps now to influence how I live into the future. So, it’s that, that I think is more important for us to stop and think about, than how do we get to some unknown and unknowable future, because that allows us to live better in the present moment and hopefully create a better future.
So, how did we get here? How does that help shape the way I behave now? And how will that help that future that’s unknown and unknowable unfold in a better way?
Karen Pascal: That’s lovely. That’s lovely. It reminds me of that story you shared in one of your articles that I was reading, about your grandfather taking you fishing, and you being fearful about would you know how to get back or how to return home. I love that. Do you want to just share that? It’s kind of interesting, because it does meld a little bit with what you just said.
Terry LeBlanc: Sure. Well, it was a situation. It was just my grandfather, the one from whom I take my name, LeBlanc. It’s not my biological grandad, but he was the one that I grew up with. And we were out fishing, he and my father and I, and we were going into a place that I’d never been before. And I was just a young boy. And my grandfather led and I was in the middle and my father came behind and off we went into the woods, into the bush. And the trail closed in on us, as I perceived it, and I was afraid, and expressed my concern multiple occasions, I’m sure, within 10 feet, one of the other in my grandfather’s experience.
And he tried to reassure me and then finally, recognizing that I was quite concerned and anxious about it, he put his gear down, turned around, and knelt down, and said to me, “When you’re heading on a trail that you’ve never been on before, a new trail, spend twice as much of your time looking over your shoulder at where you’ve come from, as you do where you’re going. That way, when you turn to take the trail home, you’ll be able to recognize the landmarks as they will appear coming from the other direction.”
Since, as I’m sure our listeners will be aware, when you head west to east on a road, it looks different than when you head east to west. The tree that was on the left is now on the right, and maybe leaning away from you instead of towards you, and the pond that you crossed from right to left, might look different.
You might step down over something that you’re now stepping up across, and all of those landmarks look very different. So, looking at where we’ve come from more than we do where we’re going, is an important way to fix an understanding of our present moment in our minds, the way that it’ll appear when we need to find our way back. Used in the context of my earlier discussion, it allows us to fix ourselves in the present moment more accurately. How did we get here? What are the relationships that contributed to our current setting, our current situation, both good, bad, and ugly or all of good, bad, and ugly? And what do we need to do about those things so that now, as we move forward into whatever the future will bring, we can do it in a better way?
And so, that’s helped me throughout my life to move through present moments in better ways and to try and bring better relationships.
Karen Pascal: Terry, I so appreciated this opportunity to talk with you. And I have a feeling, some of our listeners are going to go, “Where can I get a little bit more of Terry LeBlanc? Where can I find him?” Should we send them to NAIITS? Is that a place? Are there courses, are there conversations going on? Would that be a good place?
Terry LeBlanc: Sure. Yeah. www.NAIITS.com, and you’ll be able to find our learning community there, courses, faculty. So, one of the nice things is that you don’t have to listen to me prattle on. There are some really, really, really well-framed indigenous and non-indigenous folks who work together with us at NAIITS that you’d be exposed to.
Karen Pascal: Okay. What we tend to do is we give our audiences links to everything we’ve talked about, if there’s something out there. So, if you’re listening and you would like a little bit more, I promise you that if you go into the notes for our podcast, you’ll find links to the various things that Terry has referenced today.
Terry, it was a joy to be with you, and you’re the best person I could be talking with at this time. I loved what you opened up for us. Thank you.
Terry LeBlanc: All right. Thanks Karen. Bye for now.
Karen Pascal: Take care. Bye-bye.
Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. What an honor for me to spend time with Terry LeBlanc. For more resources related to this program, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll find links to anything mentioned today, as well as book suggestions.
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